How a Dior Bag is Upending South Korean Politics

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South Korea’s President and First Lady. (Image Credit: Global Times)

The controversy surrounding a $2,250 Dior handbag has become a focal point in South Korean political discussions in the lead-up to the upcoming elections. The issue has contributed to a deepening divide within the conservative People Power Party (PPP), casting a shadow over their prospects in the April elections.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who assumed office in May 2022, has faced challenges in navigating the political landscape, particularly with the PPP being a minority in the parliament. The party had been hoping for a resurgence in the upcoming elections, but the current situation appears challenging.

The revelation of a spy cam video, recorded by Korean-American Pastor Choi Jae-yeong, depicting the First Lady Kim Keon-hee accepting the Dior handbag in September 2022, adds fuel to the internal strife within the PPP. Choi claims that Kim had been abusing her power by using her position as an excuse. For that reason, he decided to record his exchange with her.

The video, brought to light by the liberal news media Voice of Seoul in November 2023, has sparked controversy and intensified political tensions.

The controversy surrounding the Dior handbag has led to divided opinions among President Yoon Suk Yeol’s supporters. The PPP argues that the situation may have been a setup orchestrated by political rivals, pointing to Pastor Choi Jae-Yeong’s tactics in recording the exchange with the First Lady. On the other hand, there are those who question why the First Lady accepted the gift in the first place, emphasizing that she could have refused it, suggesting that her acceptance of the Dior handbag raises ethical considerations and could have been averted by declining the gift.

Outrage stems from South Korea’s anti-graft law that imposes restrictions on public officials and their spouses regarding the value of gifts they can receive. According to the law, individuals in public office and their spouses are prohibited from accepting gifts exceeding $750 (1 million won) in a single instance and $2,250 (3 million won) within one fiscal year. This regulation is designed to prevent corruption, conflicts of interest, and undue influence on public officials by limiting the value of gifts they can receive.

Notably, this is not Kim’s first controversy. In 2021, she faced plagiarism allegations regarding her PhD thesis and was accused of resume padding. Additionally, she remains under investigation for her alleged involvement in stock manipulations from 12 years ago.

In a recent poll by a local cable news channel, more than 69% of respondents expressed the belief that President Yoon should clarify his stance on his wife’s actions. This sentiment is particularly pronounced following the January veto on a bill that aimed to authorize an investigation into the First Lady’s alleged involvement in stock manipulation. The results highlight a significant public expectation for transparency and accountability regarding these matters.

Written by Elda Abera

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